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Oregon Historical Quarterly/Volume 1/Indian Names

< Oregon Historical Quarterly‎ | Volume 1


Indian names and Indian words in general of the tribes of the region of the Columbia have many peculiarities, and amply repay time spent in trying to study them out. The following pretends to be only the merest beginning, and the writer has advanced only to the edges of the subject. It comprises only those names, and those meagerly and superficially, of the Lower Columbia and Willamette rivers, and these have been obtained from but two or three original sources. Those sources, however, are as reliable and intelligent as are to be found, being the recollections of Silas B. Smith, of Clatsop, and Louis Labonte, of Saint Paul, Oregon. That others may present anything they may have on the subject, and thus the stock of information be increased before those who have the original information shall have passed away, and the later investigators be left only to conjecture, is my idea in preparing this paper.

In the first place we must bear in mind a remark of Mr. Smith's, and that is that the most of the Indian names we have incorporated into our own nomenclature are more or less altered. He says that white men always like to change the original Indian somewhat. This is no doubt true. Such a disposition arises partly from the white man's egotism, which rejoices in showing that he can make a thing wrong if he pleases, and especially that an Indian name has no rights which he is bound to respect; and it arises in part from the white man's ignorance. This ignorance is shown partly in the lack of training of our ears in hearing, so that we frequently are unable to distinguish between allied letters, or sounds, such as "p" and "b," or "m," for the consonants, or between a simple vowel sound, or a compound, or diphthong. Moreover, our English language is almost hopelessly mixed up between the open, or broad continental pronunciation of the vowels, and the narrow, or closed sound; so that no one is sure that an "a" stands for "ay," as in "day,or for "ah," as in "hurrah.' The Yankee peculiarity, also, of leaving off the sound of "r" where it belongs, and putting it on where it does not belong, like saying "wo'k" for "work," or "Mariar" for "Mariah," has very materially changed the original pronunciation. With us, too, the pronunciation of the vowels follows a fashion, and varies from time to time according to what particular "phobia" or "mania' ' we may happen to be cultivating. At present the prevailing Anglomania is probably affecting our speech as well as our fashions and politics. An Indian name, therefore, that might have been rendered into very good English fifty years ago, may now, having become subject to the mutations of our fads of pronunciation, be spoken quite differently from the original tongue.

But, after making all these allowances, due to our white man's egotism, ignorance and change of fashions, the main difficulty is in the strangeness, and, it might be said, the rudimentariness of the Indian sounds. Many, perhaps the most, of the aboriginal tones have no exact phonetic equivalent in English. We must remember that their names were originated away back in their own history, and were not affected by contact with Europeans, and have therefore a primitive quality not found even in the Jargon. This makes them more difficult, but certainly not less interesting.

In general it will be found, I think, that the aboriginal languages have the following peculiarities of pronunciation:

1. Almost all the sounds are pronounced farther back in the throat than we pronounce them. This brings into use an almost entirely different set of tones, or more exactly, it brings the various vocal sounds produced by the vocal chords to a point at a different, and to us an unused position of the throat or mouth at a point where we can scarcely catch and arrest the sound. This makes the vowel sounds in general pectoral or ventral, arid the consonant sounds guttural or palatal. As to the consonants, also, it often gives them a clucking or rasping sound not found in our language, unless in certain exclamations.

2. As a consequence of the above, the vowel sounds are not very fully distinguished from the subvowels. There is no "r vl sound; if that is ever seen in an Indian name it has been interpolated there by some white maltransliterator. "L" easily runs into "a," and "m" into "b." Names that upon first pronunciation seem to have an "1" turn out upon clearer sound to have a short Italian "a," or those having an "m' to be more exactly represented by "b.' Probably the fact as to "r': is that it is identical in the aboriginal throat with long Italian "a," or the ah sound, as it still is with Easterners and Southerners.

3. Many of the most common aboriginal consonants, or atonic sounds, while simple to them, can be represented in English only by compounds. Such are the almost universal "ch" which can be as accurately rendered "ts," (?) and the very common final syllable "lth." "T" is also produced so far back in the throat as to be almost indistinguishable from "k.' It seems to be a principle to slip a short "e" sound before an initial "k," and many names begin with a short introductory "n" sound, which is nearly a pure vowel. Of the vowels, "a": pronounced as ah is the most common, though long "a," properly a diphthong, and long "i" a a diphthong, and long "e" are very frequent. While 'it is true that the sounds as a rule are in, rather than out, still the pure vowels, especially "a," and this used as a call, or cry, is often very open and pure.

4. It will probably be found, also, that the sounds are varied more or less according to meaning. With us tones are a matter of expression . With the aborigines they were probably a matter primarily of meaning. This would arise from the fact that their language was not written, but spoken, and their terms were not descriptive, but imitative. We know, for instance, that the Jargon word indicating pastime, which is "ahucuttie,"- means a shorter or longer period, according as the length the first vowel is drawn out a very long time ago admitting also of imitative gesticulation. This principle would modify the pronunciation of words, lengthening or shortening the vowels, or opening or closing them, or perhaps drawing semi-vowels out into pure vowels, and softening or sharpening the consonants.

While any expression of opinion must be very modest, still this much may be ventured: That our language has lost many valuable elements in its evolution from the spoken to the written form, especially in the matter of picturesqueness. We have, of course, gained immeasurably in directness and objective accuracy, but true evolution does not abolish any former element, but retains and subordinates it, and thereby is able to advance to new utilities. By study of a pure aboriginal language on the imitative principle, expressed only in tones, not only may the advantages of our own tongue be understood, but its deficiencies may be remedied, and a more complete language at length be developed. I am by no means of the opinion that all that is human, or of value to civilization, is to be found in the Anglo-Saxon race, or even in the white race; but that the slow and painful struggles and ponderings of the other races are also to be wrought into the final perfect expression of humanity in society, art, literature and religion.

After the above, which is perhaps too much in the way of introduction, I will proceed with the names that I have been favored with only wishing, if that were possible, that our aboriginal languages might be reconstructed in their entirety.

Water, says Mr. Smith, unless enclosed by land, was never named. The Columbia or the Willamette had no names. Water was to the native mind, like air, a spiritual element, and just the same in one place as another; and the circumstance that it was bounded by land made it no other than simply "chuck" the Jargon word. If Indians ever seemed to give a name to a river, all that was meant was some locality on the shore. The idea of giving an appellation to a body of water from source to outlet never occurred to them.

The following are some of the more common Indian names of places, as given by Mr. Smith:

Chinook, or Tsinook—The headland at Baker's Bay.

Clatsop, or, more properly, Tlahtsops—About the same as Point Adams at mouth of the Columbia.

Wal-lamt, accented on last syllable, and but two syllables—A place on the west shore of the Willamette River, near Oregon City, and the name from which Willamette is taken.

E-multh-a-no-mah—On east side of Sauvie's Island; from which the name Multnomah is derived.

Chemukata—Chemekata, site of Salem.

Chemayway—A point on the Willamette River about two and one-half miles southward from Fairfield, where Joseph Gervais, who came to Oregon with Wilson G. Hunt in 1811, settled in 1827-28. The name Chemawa, the Indian school, is derived from this.

Champoek—Champoeg, an Indian name signifying the place of a certain edible root. The name is not the French term le campment sable, as naturally supposed by some, and stated by Bancroft.

Ne-ay-lem—The name from which Nehalem is derived.


To these might be added, perhaps, Sealth, the name of the Indian chief after whom the City of Seattle is called. The name is of two syllables, accented on the first. This well illustrates the tendency of the whites to transpose letters, here making an "lth v into a "tle": in imitation of the French, or, perhaps, the Mexican names. Bancroft learnedly discusses the similarity between the Washington and Mexican "tl," apparently not knowing that the Washington termination was not "tl," but "lth."

I will now give, in more detail, names of places, chiefs, and of some primitive articles of food, and utensils, etc.:


Se-co-mec-tsiuc—Tongue Point.
O-wa-pun-pun—Smith's Point.
Kay-ke-ma-que-a—On John Day's River.
Kil-how-a-nak-klc—A point on Young's River.
Nee-tul—A point on Lewis and Clark River.
Ne-ahk-al-toun-al-the—A point on west side of Young's Bay, near Sunnymead.
Skip-p-er-nawin—A point at mouth of Skipanon Creek.
Ko-na-pee—A village near Hotel Flavel, where the first white man in Oregon, Konapee, lived.
Ne-alik-stow—A large Indian village near Hammond.
Ne-ah-keluc -A large Indian village at Point Adam's, name signifying "Place of Okeluc," or, where the Okeluc is made; "Okeluc" being salmon pemmican.
E-will-tsil-hulth—A high sand hill, or broken end of a sea ridge, facing the sea beach about west of the "Carnahan" place, meaning steep hill.
E-wil-nes-culp—A flat-topped hill against the beach about west of the "West" place, meaning "Hill cut off."
Ne-ah-ko-win—Village on the beach about west of the "Morrison" place, where the Ohanna Creek once discharged into the ocean.
Ne-ah-coxie—Village at the mouth of Neacoxie Creek.
Ne-co-tat—Village at Seaside.
Ne-hay-ne-hum—Indian lodge up the Necanicum Creek.
Ne-ahk-li-paltli—A place near Elk Creek where an edible plant, the Eckutlipatli. was found.
Ne-kah-ni—A precipice overlooking the ocean, meaning the abode of Ekahni, the supreme god: called "Carnie Mountain" by the whites.
Tlas-kani—A point in Nehalem Valley reached either by way of Young's River, or the Clatskanie; and hence the name "Claskanine" for the branch of Young's River, and "Clatskanie" for the stream above Westport. In saying- "tlastani," the Indians meant neither of those streams, but merely the place where they were going toor coming from; but with usual carelessness the whites applied it to both.
There were two lakes on Clatsop plains, one of which was called O-mo-pah, Smith's Lake; and the other, much larger, Ya-se-ya-ma-na-la-tslas-tie, which now goes by the name of an Indian, Oua-i-cul-li-by, or simply Culliby.
The name of Cape Hancock was Wa-kee-tle-he-igh; Ilwaco, Comcomley, Chenamas. Skamokoway, Kobaiway, Tostam, and Totilhum, were chiefs.

These chiefs' names illustrate some of the peculiarities of Indian pronunciation. Kobaiway, who was the Clatsop chief when Lewis and Clark came, was called by them Comowool; Tostam was sometimes called Tostab; and Totilhum, "a powerful man of the people,' had the Columbia River called after him by some whites. Seeing some Indians coming down the great stream with camas, etc., they asked where they obtained this : "From Totilhum," was the reply; meaning that they had been on a visit to the chief. Then thinkingthey had made a great discovery, the whites announced that the Columbia was called Totilhum. Totilhum was chief of the Cathlamets, who originally had their village on the Oregon side, near Clifton.


Ni-a-koiv-kow—St. Helens. A noted Indian chief here was Ke-as-no. He was made a friend by the Hudson's Bay Company, was given fine presents, and entrusted with the duty of firing a salute to the company's vessels as they came in sight up the river.
Nah-poo-itle—A village just across the river from Niahkowkow. The name of the chief was Sha-al, who was very large sized.
Nah-moo-itk—A point on Sauvie's Island.
Emulihnomah—A point a little above.
Wa-kan-a-shee-shee—A point across the river from Emutthnomah; meant "white-headed duck," or diver.
Na-quoith—On mainland, old Fort William.
Na-ka-poulth'—A pond a little above Portland, on the east side, where the Indians dug wapatoes.
E-kee-sa-ti—The Willamette Falls. The name of the tribe here was Tla-we-wul-lo. The name of a chief was Wah-nach-ski ; he had a nephew, Wah-shah-ams.
Han-te-uc—Point at mouth of Pudding- River.
Champo-ek—Champoeg, meaning the place of a certain edible root. "Ch" pronounced hard, as in "chant."
Che-sque-a—Ray's Landing.
Cham-ho-kuc—A point near the mouth of Chehalem Creek; Chehalem Village, in Chehalem Valley. A Chehalem chief was Wow-na-pa.
Chemayway—Chemayway was also a name given to Wapato Lake.
Cham-hal-lach—A village on French Prairie.
It will be noticed that the names above the Willamette Falls frequently begin with "Che" or "Cham," as the coast names often begin with"Ne.' The name for Clackamas was Ne-ka-mas, and for Molalla, Mo-lay-less. The name Tualatin was Twhah-la-ti. At Forest Grove, near the old A. T. Smith place, was an Indian village, Koot-pahl. The bare hill northwest, now called David's Hill, was Tahm-yahn, and an open spot up Gales' Creek Valley was Pa-ach-ti. A Tillamook chief was Tae-sahlx. The name of a chief at The Dalles was Wah-tis-con. Labonte remembers several chiefs at Spokane, one of whom was Ilmicum Spokanee, or the Chief of the Moon ; another, Ilmicum Takullhalth, or the Chief of the Day, and another, Kah-wah-kim, or Broken Shoulder. A chief of the Colville tribe was Skohomich, a very old, white headed man when Labonte saw him in about 1827. A tribe at the Cascades were the Wah-ral-lah.


Coyote—Chinook, Tallapus; Klikitat, Speeleyi; Spokane, Sincheleepp.
Fox—Spokane, Whawhaoolee.
Gray wolf—Cheaitsin.
Grizzly bear—Spokane, Tsim-hi-at-sin; Chinook, E-shai-um.
Black bear—Spokane, N'salmbe; Chinook. Itch-hoot.
Deer—Spokane, Ah-wa-ia; Doe, Poo-may-ia, or Poom-a-wa-ia. (?) Calapooia, "A big buck," Awaia umpaia.
Black bear—Clackamas, Skint-wha.
Deer—Chinook, Mowitch; Calapooia, A-mo-quee.
Elk—Calapooia, An-ti-kah.
Elk—Clatsop, Moo-luk.
Duck—Clatsop, Que’ka-que’kh (onamapoeia).
Geese—Clatsop, Kah-lak-ka-lah-ma (ono. ).
Yellow legged goose—Hi-hi.
Columbia Sucker—Kaht-a-quay.
Smelt—Clatsop, O-tla-hum.
Hake—Clatsop, Sca-nah.
Silverside salmon—O-o-wun.
Blue back salmon—Clatsop, Oo-chooi-hay.
Large black salmon of August run—Clatsop, Ec-ul-ba.
Steelhead—Clatsop, Qua-ne-ah,
Dog salmon—Clatsop, O-le-ahch.
Cinook salmon (Royal Chinook)—Clatsop, E-quin-na, from which "Quinnat," the name of the Pacific Coast salmon species has been taken.
Whale—Clatsop, E-co-lay.
Horse—Clatsop, E-cu-i-ton.
Cow—Clatsop, Moos-moos (ono.).
Wildcat—Clatsop, E-cup-poo.
[Mr. Smith conjectures that the name of wildcat was given from the alarm call of the squirrel, which was hunted by the wildcats, and whose cry indicated the presence of these animals.]
Beaver—Clatsop, E-nah.
Seal—Clatsop, Ool-hi-you.
Sea lion—Clatsop, Ee-kee-pee-tlea.
Sea otter—Clatsop, E-lah-kee.
Coon—Clatsop, Twa-las-key.


Wapato—Clatsop. Kah-nat-sin,
Camas—Calapooia, Ah-mees.
Loaf of Camas—Um-punga.
Foxtail tuber—Clatsop, Che-hup; Calapooia, same.
[The che-hup was quite an article of commerce, being prepared by the Calapooias and traded with the coast tribes. It was black, and sweet tasting.]
Thistle root—Clatsop, Sh-nat-a-whee.
Blue lupine root—Clatsop, Cul-whay-ma.
[This was a root as large as one's finger, a foot long, and roasted, tasted like sweet potato.]
Wild tulip, or brown lily—Clatsop, Eck-ut-le-pat-le.
Cranberry—Clatsop. Solh-meh.
Strawberry—Clatsop, Ah-moo-tee.
Service berry—Clatsop, Tip-to-ich.
Blue huckleberry—Same as service berry.
Buffalo berry—Clatsop, Smee-ugh-tul.
Sallal—Clatsop, Sal-lal.
Hazel nuts—Calapoolia, To-que-la.
Wasps' nest—Calapooia, An-te-alth.
[The nest of the "yellow jackets" was dug out of the ground, the insects being first well smoked so as not to sting; and the combs, with the honey and larvae, were considered a great delicacy. The expression (Calapooia) "msoah quasinafoe antealth," means "yellow jacket's nests are good eating."]
Tar weed seed—Calapooia, Sah-wahl.

The tar weed seeds were small and dark, ripening late. One of the objects of burning the prairie over in the fall was to ripen and partially cook these seed, which, after the fire had passed, were left dry and easily gathered. They were ground like camas root in a mortar and then resembled pepper in appearance, but were sweet tasting.


One—Chinook, ikt; Spokane, nekoo.
Two—Chinook, mox; Spokane, es-sel.
Three—Chinook, clone; Spokane, tsye-sees.
Four—Chinook, lack-et; Spokane, moos.
Five—Chinook, quin-am or quun-un; Spokane, chyilks.
Six—Chinook, tahum; Spokane, e-tecken.
Seven—Chinook, sinomox; Spokane, sees-pul.
Eight—Chinook, sto-ken; Spokane, ha-en-um.
Nine—Chinook, quoist; Spokane, h'noot.
Ten—Chinook, tat-ta-lum; Spokane, oo-pen.
Twenty—Chinook, tattalum-tattalum; Spokane, es-sel oo-pen.
One hundred—Spokane, en-kay-kin.


Blankets—Calapooia, Pas-sis-si.
Kettle—Calapooia, Moos-moos.
Slaves—Calapooia, El-ai-tai.
Haiqua shells, used for money, a small turritella, found on the northern coast.
Small haiqua—Calapooia, Cope-cope.
Tobacco—Calapooia, E-kai-noss.
Knives—Calapooia, Eoptstsh.
Powder—Calapooia, Poo-lal-lie.
Buffalo robe—Clatsop, Too-i-hee.
Wagon—Clatsop, Chick-chick (ono-).
High-bow Chinook canoe—Clatsop, Esquai-ah.
Big tub Chinook canoe—Clatsop, Ska-moolsk-
Small duck canoe Kah-see-tic(h).
Clackamas canoe—Clackamas, Tse-quah-min.

Even from the above meager list a number of interesting inquiries might be begun, but my object at present is only to make a small contribution along what I believe will prove a profitable line of investigation, hoping that others will add theirs. In this way something will be accomplished toward reconstructing the simple life of our natives, doing them a justice, and discovering, I am sure, what will be a delight and benefit both to the present and to the coming generations of our own people.